The strategy, launched on January 19 by European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy John Dalli, follows an evaluation of 20 years of animal welfare policy and sets out the future actions proposed to improve the treatment and welfare of animals in the European Union up until 2015.
However, the document has been criticized by animal welfare and industry groups for its lack of ambition and failure to address key issues. These include the shortcomings of the current transportation Regulation 2, the need to recommend maximum journey limits in line with scientific opinion and the omission of horsemeat labelling, so denying consumers the ability to make an informed choice.
The charity has long campaigned to rein in the long journeys endured by tens of thousands of horses to slaughter, arguing it is cruel and unnecessary. It has described the long-haul trips as the single biggest abuse of horses in Europe.
World Horse Welfare chief executive Roly Owers said: "This is the second time in two months that the European Commission has chosen to ignore the calls of its citizens and MEPs to rectify the terrible conditions and needlessly long journeys of horses transported to slaughter across Europe.
"In November, the commission had the opportunity to improve animal welfare by proposing changes to existing legislation. However, despite acknowledging that 'severe animal welfare problems persist' and that the long journey times endured by horses do not conform to the recommendations of their own scientific advisers, they proposed no changes."
The long-distance transportation of horses across Europe to slaughter is a particularly high-profile issue and the focus of overwhelming concern among EU citizens and Members of the European Parliament.
Public support for changes to the existing transportation legislation affecting horses is significant, as evidenced by the World Horse Welfare-sponsored written declaration to stop the needless practice, which was signed by a majority of MEPs in 2010, and the current petition for a maximum eight-hour journey limit for all animals intended for slaughter, signed by more than a million citizens.
The European Commission has indicated that improved enforcement of the transport regulation and guidance should be the priority to improve welfare during transport.
Owers says: "We agree entirely that robust enforcement of the regulation is a key part of the solution, but the reality is that the current regulation is largely unenforceable, not least because current journeys are limitless and hence can go through multiple member states, which poses great logistical challenges - something the commission itself admits.
"It is for this reason, and clear scientific evidence that horses suffer during long-distance journeys, that we believe an amendment to the law to include a short, maximum journey limit of 9 to 12 hours for all non-registered equines is an essential part of the solution to the current horrific suffering that tens of thousands of horses endure every year.
"We are also perplexed that the European Parliament and the European Commission have agreed to remove the compulsory labelling of horsemeat from the forthcoming Labelling Regulations, despite all other meats being covered.
"This had been promised at the last strategy and would have informed consumers where the horses from which the meat was obtained were reared and slaughtered, so providing them with an informed choice.
"We call on the European Commission to introduce proposals for a short, finite journey limit for horses and other equidae destined to slaughter or further fattening, and for horse meat to be labelled in line with other meats so that consumers can make an informed choice.
"The status quo is nothing less than abuse, is scientifically discredited, and unacceptable to the public and its own members of the European Parliament."